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Labour slams government's 'incomprehensible' attitude to the appalling state of broadband in new-build homes

Tuesday, January 26th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

The lack of broadband in new-build houses is “symptomatic of the government’s indifference” on the issue, Labour has told Cable.co.uk.

Thousands of homebuyers all around the UK move into new developments expecting the best in modern living, only to find the broadband provision is either slow or non-existent.

Cable.co.uk has spoken to the residents of several new-build estates who are struggling with slow broadband connections and others who have been without so much as a landline since the day they moved in.

This is despite the UK's adoption of an EU directive stating every new home must be "high speed ready" by 1 January 2017.

Shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah said it is “incomprehensible” that new developments are built without access to new fibre networks.

The Labour MP – a former telecoms engineer – urged the government to give more guidance to homebuilders, and said other countries manage "to get it right” by using shared ducting for utilities.

Ms Onwurah said: “New-build is a huge opportunity to get it right. And to get it right with fibre.

“The incremental cost of laying fibre when you’re putting gas or electricity ducts in the ground is insignificant in comparison to digging up streets, so it’s a huge opportunity.

“And other countries manage to get it right – the shared ducting.”

Openreach 'leading on new-build fibre'

In September, outgoing Openreach CEO Joe Garner told BT's Delivering Britain's Digital Future conference that the company's ambition is to make sure that all new developments get a fibre connection.

This would be funded by BT where possible, but in some situations the company will work with developers to 'co-fund' fibre installation, he said.

Ms Onwurah said she spoke to BT CEO Gavin Patterson about the issue before Christmas.

"He told me that Openreach were leading on new-build fibre and he gave me a percentage or the proportion of the country he expected to be covered by new-build fibre, so the obstacles that new homeowners or people moving into new homes are having I just find incomprehensible really.

"There's so little that you need to do to make such a step-change. For a new home, having fibre to it really means they're futureproofed."

Openreach's ambition is that every new-build house has a fibre broadband connection

She said homebuilders had previously told her that having fibre connectivity in homes would increase their value, so it was in their interest to have it installed at the same time as other utilities.

"Really it is about government playing a co-ordinating and facilitation role so that this happens, because unfortunately local authorities have less and less powers in these areas, even though the government talks about devolution.

"I think it really is either symptomatic of the government's indifference, or a belief that the market gets it right, that there isn't more in place to ensure that duct for fibre goes in with the rest of the utilities."

Ms Onwurah, in a previous role as head of telecoms technology at Ofcom, authored the regulator's 2008 report 'Next Generation New Build: Promoting higher speed broadband in new build housing developments'.

"I looked at this in quite a bit of detail and even if there were just some better guidance there most of the utilities would be more inclined to follow it," she said.

"When people produce guidance it has quite an effect because often organisations and even buyers will say, 'have you followed all the government guidance on this?' and you have to say yes or no."

Case study: Sandmartins, Darlington

Residents of the 76-home Sandmartins development in Darlington say they are left frustrated by slow connections while their neighbours in nearby roads are served by both BT fibre and Virgin Media.

Steve Hodgson, who bought one of the new-build properties in June last year, said he enjoyed speeds of 100Mbps before he moved but now gets a maximum of 2.5Mbps.

“When all the family members are home then it’s game over,” he told Cable.co.uk.

“I had to cancel Netflix because I couldn’t use the service and I can’t use catch-up TV. It’s just impossible to do anything.”

Mr Hodgson said the poor connection also affects the ability of his teenage daughter to complete her college work.

“What’s blisteringly annoying is knowing that both ends of the build has up to 200Mbps broadband and I can’t even manage 2Mbps,” he said.

Emma Simpson, moved into the development on 24 April but was left without a broadband connection and phone line until 19 June.

“This meant eight weeks of running up huge mobile phone bills, work being affected and school work for 13 and 15-year-olds being affected,” she said.

“Even now the broadband is basic and struggles with the demand of a family of two adults and two teenagers.”

Case study: Coopers Edge, Gloucestershire

The Cooper's Edge development. Picture courtesy of Jonathan Billinger

Luke Edwards moved into the Coopers Edge development in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, in June 2014 and runs a campaign group calling for better broadband provision for the estate.

“There are 1,000 houses on the estate – it is the biggest estate in Gloucestershire – but I believe it is in the top five places with the slowest internet speeds in the UK.

“It is in its fifth year of construction and there are another five years left. Until recently there was no fast broadband at all."

The group lobbied the local MP, BT and Virgin Media and eventually BT installed a single Infinity cabinet which quickly filled up with 200 connections, he said.

“What makes me angry is that this estate was marketed as a place for families, for people working in the technology sector – I’m a web developer – but we can’t work from home. If we’re lucky we get 5Mbps on a good day.

“Personally I spend a lot on my phone bill because I find the 4G hotspot from my mobile is much quicker than our home broadband. It’s ridiculous.

“I did my research before we bought the house. We were told there would be a fibre cabinet put in within months.”

Mr Edwards said developers Taylor Wimpey told him that trunking was already in place on the development but it was not its responsibility to run fibre cables through it.

Case study: Portland Wynd, Blyth, Northumberland

Jon Gibson bought a house on the new Portland Wynd development in Blyth, Northumberland, after being assured that fibre broadband was available on the site.

But after moving in, he discovered that the site wasn't connected to Openreach’s network – leaving him and his family without so much as a landline.

He said that as a family of five, unlimited and fast internet is mandatory.

“My wife works from home and has been advised by her IT support that a faster connection would help her productivity so when looking for a new home, fibre was a big influence,” said Mr Gibson.

“Our builder advised all new homes would be fibre ready. This is the most important factor for us as it directly impacts our livelihood.

“Not only that, we now have mixed mobile reception and no easy way to dial emergency services.”

So what are the powers-that-be doing about it?

In June 2015, Hampshire County Council asked the government to give councils legal powers to insist that new-build homes have access to high-speed broadband.

Some councils have already brought in policies requiring new-build houses to have access to superfast broadband. All new homes built in the Cheltenham area will have to have access to the service following a motion passed by Cheltenham Borough Council last year and Cable.co.uk reported in May 2015 how Cheshire East Council was looking to make changes to its planning policy.

The idea has also had government backing – digital minister Ed Vaizey and housing minister Brandon Lewis wrote to council leaders last year telling them to ensure superfast access was considered as part of the planning process.

The Homebuilders' Federation (HBF), which represents the homebuilding industry in England and Wales, previously voiced concerns that the UK wouldn't be able to meet an EU directive on broadband access in new homes.

More recently, the federation said it is working closely with the government and Openreach to develop working procedures that would lead to the "best possible service levels" for house builders and buyers.

Cable.co.uk has approached the government for comment.

Additional reporting by Phil Wilkinson-Jones.

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Comments (10)

Phil
8th February 2016

I moved into a new build estate in December, the builder said that all the houses were already cabled for Virgin Media and there was VM cabinets everywhere, along with BT cabinets too. On moving in I contacted VM to be told my address wasn't in their system, not suprised by this I asked if they could manually override the system, they told me they would have to send someone out to check the property existed, even though the call agent checked the Royal Mail Postcode Address system which showed my address was real. That was December, over half a dozen calls later, I'm still being asked if my address exists and promised of a "spotter" to come and check as half of the estate is cabled up. No one has ever been, VM still say the address doesn't exist so I had to join Sky who said I could get 10 Mbps, not the 200 meg I was used to at my old house, but usable for streaming and general browsing and work. Low and behold my actual connection is between 3 and 4 Mbps! Not impressed and BT have said until the estate is complete fibre will not be installed into the cabinets to offer FTTC, that's another 12 months away. Pulling my hair out with this, it's a joke!

Andre Louis
8th February 2016

Nope: As I stated, I am a professional musician and sound-designer. This means that often, I am receiving files from clients of 1-4 GB, and I have to work and edit these. With the connection I was more than happy to have, 10 times more speed meant 10 times faster response for my clients. And as I also stated, 50-60 is when the connection syncs at a *good* rate. In paying for 80, many times I sync at a mere 20-30. I hardly call that acceptable. If I pay for something, I expect close enough to that figure to be called reasonable. Not less than half.

JW
7th February 2016

after waiting nearly 4 months to get connected in a new build home in Chesterfield, got an amazing speed test of 0.25mbps download, which is surely against the trades description calling it broadband, no fibre available so had to cancel and go the mobile wifi route and now get 30mbps, it's shocking really in this day and age that we are still worse than old dialup speeds, yes the package is limited to 50gb but that's plenty for most, vote with your feet people, it's the only way things get changed

Iain
6th February 2016

Recently moved into a new build estate near Inverness away from an old country farm house. I had spoken to the residents of the surrounding area who had recently been upgraded to BT fibre optic and expected for the new estate to be full equipped for fibre connectivity. While switching contracts to the new address we were informed that we would in fact be expecting 2Mb/s. This was a shock to me and my family as this is 1/4 of the previous speeds we experienced at our previous address in the countryside. It took months of persistent phone calls and emails to eventually get the BT engineer to arrive on the data booked and when we finally were connected speeds were shocking. Barely reaching 2Mb/s streaming is next to impossible and downloading any large file such as a game is a joke. We were promised to be informed immediately as soon as fibre was available (which they indicated was soon) but after 8 months nothing. Everyone on our street has had the same shocking experience and BT need to get there s*** together.

Rachel
6th February 2016

We have had awful trouble with internet speeds, we can't even watch iplayer as our speed is that bad. 2 years ago we moved into a brand new home on a brand new housing estate, we were told when signing up to BT that high speed would arrive within the next 6 months however this failed to happen. I have been in contact with my MP (Owen Paterson) and am in talks with Openreach at the moment, we have been told we get an average speed of 1.3mg but as more houses are built on the estate our speed gets worse (Another 100 are still to be built). After speaking to Openreach it appears that our cabinet was not upgraded and there are no plans to in the future, a suggestion has been made that our 'community' pays for the upgrade ourselves, however as you can imagine on a brand new estate there isn't yet a community and lots of families who can't afford this.

BT have ruined our new home with their false promises, I am especially angry about the issue as everyone around us has fibre optic upgrade now including the rural areas, it appears our cabinet was missed simply because they didn't anticipate all the new houses that were being built. Thank you for covering this issue.

Nope
6th February 2016

Andre, a speed of 55 is more than enough for you all to enjoy Netflix, YouTube all at the same time.

Quite frankly I don't know how you can complain with that speed when it is grossly above the average of the UK.

Samuel
5th February 2016

We have this problem also at a new CALA homes development in Edinburgh, Trinity Park (Code name). we get 10meg max and also have the same response from openreach.

Thanks to this article I have contacted our MP for the area to find out what can be done. Open reach want to charge £30k for a cabinet.

the developers hooked the development up to antiquated cooper existing wiring and that was that... no future proofing at all...

Michael
28th January 2016

Been living the Arena development (Barratt homes) in Hayes for closing on 5 years... Still no fibre despite every surrounding road being covered. Frustrating to say the least! Skype calls are a bit frustrating for the people on the other end on the current sluggish broadband connection.

Craig
28th January 2016

We moved into the Hawkhead Village development in Paisley last June, and since then the fastest speed I've seen is about 2Mbps.

The developer, Kier, say they have laid the necessary cabling and it's all down to Openreach. Virgin are nowhere to be seen. It's ridiculous that this can happen when, as people in the article have said, the house around the new builds are served with significantly faster speeds.

I am not exagerating when I say that I would not have bought this house, had I know how poor the broadband speeds would be.

Andre Louis
28th January 2016

I'm perhaps not quite in the same situation as some of the people mentioned above, but I do feel very let-down. Before I moved, I had Virgin Media's 152 mbit connection. As the council are knocking down the building in which I lived, they rehoused all tenants which is lovely don't get me wrong, but the place I now live is not a cabled street. As a result I'm now on what should be 80 mbit, but real-world speed is 55. A huge, huge drop that even my children notice when watching youtube, netflix etc. It really bothers me that yes, although I have internet and shouldn't complain because it's not 2 mbit, it's much slower than what I did have, and I'd still be living in a Virgin Media area, if I wasn't forced to move. Switching from Virgin Media to Sky for broadband, TV and phone was fairly hassle-free, but when you're used to one thing, and everything changes, you'd like to be able to carry a bit of stability with you. Hoping to have kept my irgin Media services would have helped that. Although the service is quite good, it's still DSL and all that entails. I'll wake up one day with a sync rate of 30 mbit and 22 MS pings to BBC, next day I could wake up with a sync rate of 61 mbit and pings of 13 MS. The ever-changing connection and dropouts overnight are just not what I'm used to, not to mention that getting hold of Openreach engineers independent of Sky themselves is like trying to get blood out of a stone. The Sky engineers aren't able to do all the same kinds of line-tests and equipment-checks that they used to do with ADSL lines, because VDSL is of course run and owned by Openreach, just resoled. This makes it incredibly irritating for both engineers and endusers regardless of skill-level and I for one am sick of it.

The best bit of the switch I'll admit is having 20 mbit up. On Virgin Media I had 12, and as a professional musician and sound-designer, the upstream for me is much more important than downstream, but for my children who watch different things at the same time, 152 versus 52 is incredibly noticeable.

Virgin Media said 'Upto' but I always got advertised speeds. Sky say 'Upto' and I've never ever managed faster than 60 mbit, despite paying for 'upto' 80. Sigh...

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